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Graffiti by artists Heba Y. Amin, Caram Kapp, and Stone in a scene from the most recent episode of ‘Homeland’ (GIF via the artists)

Viewers able to read Arabic who caught last Sunday’s US airing of the award-winning television show Homeland may have noticed something bizarre about the graffiti lining the walls of the Syrian refugee camp: Splashed across the fictional set were messages in Arabic that read, “Homeland is racist,” “Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh,” and more blatant criticisms of the program, which is now in its fifth season. “#blacklivesmatter,” too, appears on one brick wall in green paint. The words are the work of “The Arabian Street Artists,” a trio that Homeland itself hired to adorn the set with “realistic” street tags. The artists revealed the ruse — which they label a “hack” on the series — yesterday, explaining that they had conceived of it as an intervention to protest their discontentment with the show’s political messages.

As Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin wrote yesterday in a statement on her website:

The series has garnered the reputation of being the most bigoted show on television for its inaccurate, undifferentiated, and highly biased depiction of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Afghans, as well as its gross misrepresentations of the cities of Beirut, Islamabad, and the so-called Muslim world in general. For four seasons, and entering its fifth, “Homeland” has maintained the dichotomy of the photogenic, mainly white, mostly American protector versus the evil and backwards Muslim threat.

Graffiti that translates to “Homeland is Racist” (all photos courtesy the artists) (click to enlarge)

She cites, for example, an Al Jazeera article that discusses the show’s limited perspective in portraying Arabs, as well as a Buzzfeed video that points out clear cultural oversights on the part of the producers, such as the fact that one head terrorist in the fourth season shares a name with a former, actual Pakistani ambassador to the US. In another language-related mishap, one episode in the second season displayed advertisements and posters with Hebrew text lining the streets of Beirut.

Amin, joined by fellow Berlin-based graphic designer Caram Kapp and graffiti artist Stone (aka Don Karl), was initially hesitant to assist with the set when she received a call in June from a friend whom the series’ set production company had asked to find “Arabian street artists.” She realized, however, that the opportunity presented “our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself,” as she writes on her website. As she describes, the only instruction Homeland relayed to the artists was that the graffiti had to be apolitical and free of copyright restriction. The show’s designers also told her that writing “’Mohamed is the greatest’ is okay of course.”

The artists, borrowing the company’s language to call themselves “The Arabian Street Artists,” executed the work in just two days. Amin notes that set designers, with their attention devoted to transforming what had formerly been an animal feed plant on the fringes of Berlin into an authentic-looking refugee camp, seemed unconcerned about understanding the content of the painted script appearing around them. This negligence is itself telling of the reduced role such visuals play, in particular, in the Western entertainment industry.

“In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas, and moreover, this season, to refugees,” Amin writes.

Homeland has since responded to the artists’ announcement, issuing a public statement that acknowledges the protest action but skirts addressing its intention.

“We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air,” co-creator Alex Gansa said. “However, as ‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.” The episode is set to air in the UK next Sunday.

Left: “Homeland is NOT a series (al watan mesh mosalsal); Right: “There is no Homeland (mafeesh Homeland)”

Left: “#blacklivesmatter”; Right: “Freedom (horeya) in 3-D!”

Top message: “We didn’t resist, so he conquered us riding on a donkey”; Bottom: “The situation is not to be trusted”; Left: “This show does not represent the views of the artists”

Right message: “Against the red, blue and purple devil” (Artists’ note: “A Muslim Brotherhood reference made by an Egyptian general on Television in 2013”); Left: “Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh”

“Homeland is watermelon (al watan bateekh)” (Artists’ note: “Watermelon is a word often used to indicate that something is a sham or not to be taken seriously”)

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

19 replies on “Street Artists Hack ‘Homeland’ With Arabic Grafitti”

  1. So are you denying individual responsibility for wanting to enforce 7th century religious beliefs on all us infidels?

      1. It may not be PC, but certain societal principals and structures are better than others, and not all so-called truths are equal. If this
        is not the case and all ideas are equal, then there would be no point in doing anything, especially making art.
        Which brings us back to the fundamental question: Why are there no open, pluralistic Arab societies?

          1. Lebanon used to be the most open Arab society, but now it is in a state of near civil war and large portions of the country are controlled by Hezbollah. The government is barely functioning. They don’t have a president and can’t even get it together to pickup the garage.

          2. Dysfunctional yes, but I think we can say the same about many countries on certain issues. I don’t think Lebanon is in a state of near civil war, unlike Israel, Turkey, and other countries in the region. It has actually been quite resilient and taken more Syrian refugees than it probably should given its size.

          3. If by “Dysfunctional” you follow the dictionary definition “of deviating from the norms of social behavior in a way regarded as bad,” then YES. Israel is Not in a civil war. It is under attack by those who want to Murder Jews for being Jews and those goal is Israel’s demise. If that isn’t racist what is? As for Lebanon taking in more than its fair share of Syrian refugees, why are these people fleeing to the West and why aren’t more Arab states taking in their fair share?

          4. I’m sorry you’ve never confronted your prejudices and are only accustomed to throwing around words like that thinking people don’t see through them. You hate muslims and Arabs. Now you’re changing the subject. Thank you for encouraging me to ban you from this forum.

  2. As if there were a whole bunch of “Arabs, Pakistanis,… Afghans … and the so-called Muslim world in general…” watching Homeland to begin with. Many artists waste a lot of time trying to “shock some sense” into the viewing public when, what they fail to realize is (#1) they’re just not good enough to accomplish that and (#2) the viewing public doesn’t give a crap what the artists’ socio-political views are in the first place.

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